Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

End of Road for Serialism? Schoenberg's Legacy - under Fire of Late - Is Proving Its Merit in the Concert Hall. MUSIC: COMMENTARY

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

End of Road for Serialism? Schoenberg's Legacy - under Fire of Late - Is Proving Its Merit in the Concert Hall. MUSIC: COMMENTARY

Article excerpt

DURING the 1940s and '50s, at the meetings of panelists who awarded major foundation and art-agency grants to composers, there used to be a saying: "If you could leave the room humming a tune from the music of any applicant, that composer was not going to get a dime!"

Romantic, idyllic melodies had become decidedly unfashionable. Despite its failure to intrigue concert audiences, 12-tone music - considered by many a dissonant style appealing to elitists - had achieved sovereignty among most composers and critics. To receive serious consideration in musical circles, you had to be a serialist - a proponent of that embattled but entirely dominant Viennese musical tradition ruled and administered by Arnold Schoenberg and friends.

Since those years of domination, 12-tone music has paid dearly for its sovereignty. The 1970s and '80s saw the kind of creative rebellion against Serialism. The so-called Minimalist composers Philip Glass, Steve Reich, Terry Riley, and John Adams have deconstructed the Serial tradition, producing works many critics and musicians find naive and simplistic, while others applaud it for its freshness and accessibility. More recently others have defected from the 12-tone ranks.

Does the rebellion against Serialism announce the death of musical modernism?

Many people think it does, and a great many more fervently hope that they are right. In a recent column in the New York Times, music critic Donal Henahan announced that Serialism is in trouble. In fact, he insinuated that 12-tone music is a musical dead end. I seriously doubt it.

For one thing, there are too many distinguished instrumentalists and conductors who embrace the music of the greatest 12-tone composers. For another, some of the most "difficult" compositions by Serialists are being widely and increasingly performed in concert halls and on recordings.

And, finally, the future of 12-tone music is also guaranteed by the fact that some of our most accomplished composers have been profoundly influenced by the legacy of Schoenberg.

Ultimately the future of music can only be discovered in the concert hall. A couple of months ago I attended a concert of the Cleveland Orchestra at Severance Hall. Conductor Christoph von Dohnanyi offered an exceptionally handsome performance of the Schoenberg Piano Concerto, Op. 42, with pianist Mitsuko Uchida. To me and, apparently, to much of the rest of the audience, the music sounded less brittle and far more inviting and "familiar" than ever before. Time changes the way we hear music and the way music is performed. Von Dohnanyi and Uchida approached Schoenberg's concerto as a masterwork rather than a curiosity.

Though the piano line is a highly condensed obbligato, rather than an opportunity for virtuosic display, the concerto possesses a grandeur and sweeping lyricism, especially as performed by Uchida. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.